Latinos face kin’s fears over Islam

By Virginia Culver
Denver Post
July 31, 2005

Converts gather in Denver to share their stories of adjusting to loved ones who misunderstand the religion.

Latino Muslims say it’s a lot easier to convert to Islam than to convince family members it’s a good idea.

Some Latino Muslim converts gathered in Denver on Saturday to discuss problems they have in adjusting to their new religion, keeping up family relationships and putting up with rejection from people who fear Muslims.

Misunderstandings about Islam are rampant, said the converts, many of whom were reared as Catholics. Juan Galvan of San Antonio said that after the 2001 terrorist attacks, his sister asked: “Who’s your pope? Is it Osama bin Laden? He started a holy war.”

Galvan tried to explain to her that Muslims have no central leader, and if they did, it wouldn’t be bin Laden. Galvan, who is with the Latino American Dawah Association, the organization for Latino Muslims, said no one knows the number of Latino Muslims, but estimates are from 25,000 to 75,000 in the United States.

There are only a handful in Denver.

But Dilsher Nawaz, a board member of the Colorado Muslim Society, said Latino Muslims are not unusual. “They are absolutely welcome in our mosque,” Nawaz said. A Pakistani, Nawaz said there are Chinese and South Asian and even American Indian Muslims.

Judith Martinez said her mother was “shocked” that she had become a Muslim. “My family thinks it’s a phase I’ll snap out of,” she said. But the Denver-area converts, ranging in age from 24 to 38, said Islam isn’t something they’re going to leave anytime soon. “I feel complete now,” Martinez said. “And I think my mother sees the changes in me. I’m a better person.”

Luzviminda Arguello of Aurora said she has found her purpose in life.”It is to serve God,” she said. Latinos come to Islam through various routes. Some have dated or married Muslims, others were on a religious search and settled on Islam, and others began studying the religion after the 2001 attacks because they wanted to understand the religion. Many take Muslim first names.

“Roman Catholicism never sat well with me. I always felt we were praying to saints and statues. Now I pray to God,” said Missy “Nada” Sandoval, who married a Muslim.

Khalid Rosa said he was reared a Catholic but studied several religions. At one time, he was studying to become an Episcopal priest but decided the church “was too focused on politics and power and not on bringing people to church.”

“I like the beliefs in Islam: God, Mohammed, community,” Rosa said. “I like Islam because it’s a way of life,” said Christina Ennayer. “Muslims believe in ethics in all parts of our lives.”

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